On days when I am feeling particularly mortal, I look at my daughters across the small, round dining room table located in our small, 900 foot square house and sweep my arms around our surroundings to encompass the fruit bowl full of over ripe bananas as well as the pile of dirty dishes in the kitchen sink while saying, “Some day all this will be yours.”
My daughters are not sure how to respond to this dubious bequest, and no doubt they’re hoping that before my husband and I kick the bucket, we move the family into a much larger residence with a fenced yard so they can have a dog and a swimming pool.
Since the only items of value they’ll inherit from me is an incomplete collection of Precious Moments figurines and a sock full of Susan B. Anthony dollars, I take some solace in the fact that at least my children won’t be fighting over my estate, unless it’s an argument along the lines of “I don’t want it. You take it!” “No, I don’t want it, either. You take it!”
The same cannot be said for the potential heirs of American zillionairess Huguette Clark who died in 2011 after spending the last twenty or so years of her life being cared for by employees at Beth Israel Hospital in New York City, even though she had long ago recovered from the skin cancer that had hospitalized her back in 1991. She stayed living at the hospital until she died at the age of 104 because she liked it there. More evidence that the rich are different from you and I. We only get to stay in the hospital until our insurance runs out. (Of all the truly bizarre elements of this story, I find the fact that she lived at a hospital as though it were a hotel the most incredible.) Now that she’s dead, Mrs. Clark’s relatives are showing more interest in her than they ever did when she was alive: they’re contesting her will. From the Sunday New York Times:
In pretrial proceedings, huge amounts of energy have been spent establishing whether each of the 19 living relatives contesting the second will had ever met or spoken to Mrs. Clark, and if so, when and for how long.
The answers are sometimes comical. Clifford R. Berry III, known as Kip, a veterinarian in Florida and a scion of a horse-breeding family who is in his 50s, never met Mrs. Clark. Others say they saw her in 1945, 1954 or 1957. The last time any of them remembers having seen her in public seems to be in March 1968, at the funeral of Mrs. Friedman’s grandmother at St. Thomas Church, on Fifth Avenue. Mrs. Clark greeted her bereaved half-sister, Mrs. Friedman’s great-grandmother, and other elderly relatives, then left.
I’m not sure how the court will decide; in most cases of contested wills, judges are loath to go against the last wishes of the decedent, but it’s easy to imagine how elderly heiresses might be manipulated in their final years. When she was 98 years old, Mrs. Clark executed two wills, signed 30 days apart. The first gave everything to family. The second will cut the entire family out. I suppose the plaintiffs’ attorneys will argue something happened in those thirty days between the two wills (a bump on the head? A brief, torrid affair with a caretaker? Maybe the second will was intended to be a practical joke?) that caused Mrs. Clark to lose her mind and decide to leave her fortune to her faithful employees rather than a pack of vultures.
You can read lots more about Huguette Clark in the book Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune.
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